Valuable advice on writing a business book: interview with best-selling author Charles H. Green

The ultimate symbol of expertise

Hiring the services of a consultant or professional advisor requires a high degree of trust. Clients need to be confident that you are an expert in your field before they will consider engaging your services.

There is no better way to prove your expert status than to write a business book. In terms of valuable content, a business book is right there at the top of the pile: the ultimate symbol of expertise. As a respected author you will be perceived as an authority and that gives you a huge advantage when it comes to sales. This kind of thought leadership can turn your business around.

Many business professionals think about writing a book (along with 81% of the population apparently!). I asked well-known author Charles H. Green for his pearls of wisdom on the subject. The generous advice he gives below is invaluable to any would-be author.

Charles is a consultant, speaker and educator focusing on the nature of trust in business relationships. He is the author of Trust-based Selling and co-authored the best-selling The Trusted Advisor with David Maister and Robert Galford. Charles runs a consulting firm, Trusted Advisor Associates and blogs regularly on Trust Matters (well worth reading).

Charles H. Green on the benefits of writing a book:

SJ: What inspired you to write your first book? Did you always want to be an author?

CHG: “I had thought about writing a book but it wasn’t something I’d dreamed of forever. It was absolutely in the rear view mirror. I was running a programme with Robert Galford for Deloitte with the Kellogg and Columbia Business School on the notion of a trusted advisor. Robert and I ran the programme for six to eight months and started to think: ‘You know, there’s a book here’. We ran across David Maister, who I’d known a decade before at Harvard. He said: ‘I’m basically writing the same book so why don’t we partner up – as long as I’m lead author.’ We thought for a nanosecond and, being as he had three books to his name and we had none, we said: ‘Welcome lead author!’ It was a good decision.”

SJ: What has being an author done for you and your business?

CHG: “It has been transformative for me – that’s amazing isn’t it, in this day and age of instant publishing? It’s mechanically very simple to assemble a book but somehow your fame, your respect goes up considerably if you have a book to your name. If you give someone a book it’s five dollars of paper and cardboard marked up triple yet somehow it has this patina of ‘Oh my gosh, that’s wonderful! You gave me a book! Thank you!’

“People respect it and it really helps your name become recognised.”

In my case, The Trusted Advisor has done pretty well. It still ranks in the top three to four thousand on Amazon, which for a ten year old book competing against the likes of Harry Potter is not that bad. You know, we don’t make a lot of money on it though. We’ve spent more on promoting it. But if you’re a speaker or consultant or trainer it is more than worth its expense in terms of what it brings in for your business. I would join you in recommending it to your consultant clients as a very good thing to do.”

SJ: “So do the books bring in business for you?”

CHG: “They do. I would say that maybe half the people that come to me come because of the books. Particularly in the case of the Trusted Advisor – it’s a book that is relevant to anyone in the professions of law, consulting or accounting. When you get to the mid level someone will say: ‘You need to go read The Trusted Advisor’. So that’s worked out very nicely. Trust Based Selling has sold much less but it is a rifle shot for people who get it. I do get calls from people saying: ‘Oh my gosh, that was a total eye opener. Why has no-one written that before?’ A couple of my consulting clients have revamped their whole programmes around it. So there is a smaller audience but passionate, and that’s wonderful too.”

SJ: Did becoming an author change your business model?

CHG: Very much. If I didn’t have a book I’d have a hard time getting represented by a speaker bureau of the quality of The Leigh Bureau. They also represent Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point) and Paul Krugman (Nobel Prize Winner for Economics) so if I’m up with those guys, I’m doing great and I wouldn’t be there without the books. A book gives you something to hand out at events. There are a lot of cases where I will just give out books because people value them, as I said, far in excess of their intrinsic cost and it’s a very good marketing vehicle. A book is the best brochure or website you could ever hope for.”

Charles’ advice for first-time business authors

SJ: “Do you have any other advice for consultants and advisors to motivate them to write a book?”

CHG: “I do have some advice for them:

  1. Plan on losing money; don’t worry about it. Do not plan to make a lot of money out of your book. In fact, plan to lose money on the book. The economic model of a book publisher is essentially marking up paper and ink and hope you sell enough in volume to cover all the fixed costs. For them, there is no compensating revenue. For me, or one of your clients Sonja, most likely there is some compensating revenue  in terms of speeches or seminars or consulting that comes in because of the book. We have a much fuller business model from which to subsidise the cost of a book. A publisher doesn’t have that, so what that means is that they are not going to spend any money promoting you – they’re just not! My last publisher McGraw Hill is quite honest about that. You have to promote the book yourself, because it’s sustainable in your business model, not in theirs. Plan on losing money and don’t worry about it.”
  2. Start by writing articles and blog posts. Some other wisdom I’ve learned is how to write one. I still find it very difficult to write a book. I’m good at writing blog pieces. I can do article-length writing but it is very hard to do book length stuff. The best advice I got was from David Maister and it’s what I used in Trust-based Selling: start by writing articles and blog posts. In David’s case, he got a contract to write a year’s worth of articles for American Lawyer, which meant that he had to write them – one a month for 12 months – and having done that he realised: ‘I have the makings of a book here’. Just throw the articles up in the air, let them land on the ground and arrange them until you have a book. That was pretty good advice.
  3. Don’t start at the beginning. Collect material that you’ve done before, come up with a sensible organisation e.g. parts one, two and three. Don’t be trite and come up with oblique references as chapter headings. It’s a business book so tell people what the chapter is about through the name. People have short attention spans these days. you can’t expect them to waste time tyring to interpret what you mean.
  4. Promote, promote, promote. There are book publicists out there but few of them are savvy in terms of social media promotion and I’m convinced you need to do that.”

SJ: And for you Charlie? Any more books to come?

CHG: “Maybe one or two more to go. The next one is most certainly going to be The Trusted Advisor Field Guide – a much more practical focus than The Trusted Advisor. I’ve almost settled on a publisher so I’ll be conservative and say that should be coming out within a year. It’s still in my head – it’s 80% there but it isn’t written yet: the painful process is still to come!”

SJ: A lot of people these days seem to publish chapters as they go along and test their ideas via their blog. What do you think of this kind of public publishing for authors?

CHG: “I do that in some way, not so formal but I’m always working out the material that goes in my books in my blog. I don’t think this keeps people from buying the finished product. If anything it probably publicises it. This way, you have a chance to be influenced by people. They write in and tell you what they think and it’s tremendously valuable feedback. I think it’s good stuff.”

SJ: I’ll watch your blog with interest Charlie to see what’s going to come up in the next book.

CHG: You’ll see it, for sure!

Great advice, I’m sure you’ll agree. Thank you Charlie Green for sharing what you’ve learned about writing and publishing a business book. And good luck with the next one.

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